Hobsbawm’s “What do Historians Owe to Karl Marx?”

Having read through historian Eric Hobsbawm’s chapter entitled, “What Do Historians Owe to Karl Marx?” I came to the conclusion that the answer is very little. A more pertinent question is what does humanity owe to Karl Marx? To which I’d answer that thanks to the ideas of Marx, millions of people died and there is a great deal more wanton suffering in the world. Historians could owe their entire discipline to Marx and it would pale in comparison to its real human impact. And thanks to historians like Hobsbawm, Marx’s ideas will continue to be such a delightful influence on man.

The Social Contract- Rousseau; Review

Emerging nationalism was one of the primary forces in shaping change in Europe throughout the late 18th and into the 19th centuries, in no small part due to the enormous influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Of the Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right, written in 1762 in France. Rousseau’s Social Contract attempted to answer the question, “is it possible to establish some just and reliable rule of administration in civil affairs?”[1] Rousseau explicitly laid out that his essay was an attempt to find a justification for the institution of government over man—his bondage—since government is a fact of life, but that most governments seemed to be in possession of arbitrary authority.[2] Given that governments and nations existed throughout the world, if man was going to be limited by them, there should naturally arises a tendency to question how this can be legitimate.

Rousseau believed that people would give up their freedom they enjoy in nature only in order that they secure their own advantage thereby. Rousseau denies that rights can be establish by facts, just as David Hume did; as such, he notes that the existence of slavery is not evidence enough to induce that slavery is a part of the natural order. Rousseau dispatches with the moral principle that might makes right, understanding that if this were true, right would add nothing to might, given that a change in one necessarily means a change in the other, which is a flimsy basis for a right.[3]

Rousseau notes it is odd to extend the principle that an individual can alienate his freedom in exchange for subsistence—that is, to sell himself into slavery—to a king, since subjects do not depend on their king for their daily bread, rather the reverse is true. Men would not give up their freedom in order “that their property also shall be taken.” Rousseau ultimately denies even the ability to alienate one’s liberty and voluntarily become a slave, since this would be to renounce the very essence of humanity and be a self-contradictory proposition. Rousseau denies Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius’s claim that victors in war have the right to demand slavery from the subjects of their conquered for, since wars are between state and state, rather than between individuals, so the only spoils that rightfully belong to the victorious state are the possessions of the vanquished state; to assert otherwise is simply an extension of the earlier-refuted maxim that might makes right. [4]

In Chapter V, Rousseau attempts to establish what constitutes a people, or a nation, since Grotius asserts that a people can alienate itself to a king, meaning it had to have been a body politic already in order to have deliberated and made such a decision.[5] If these individuals had not been a body politic, to establish authority over every one, every individual would have had to unanimously vote to give up their liberties, for the ability of a majority to bind a minority is only operative anterior to the creation of a body politic. Here, Rousseau elucidates his social contract theory, whereby men determine that the state of nature being harsh and unforgiving with each individual acting only with regard to his own self-interest, they would find it in their best interest to form an association capable of protecting their persons and property by using the “whole force of the community” to protect each individual member.[6] Rousseau moves on in Chapter VII to note that a social compact having been agreed to, and a collective body having been formed, it is the sovereign which takes on the role of the individual, in that it under no obligation to be bound to itself, namely that it cannot “impose on itself a law it cannot transgress”; in essence, it is a body of unlimited authority. Rousseau also stipulates that individuals give up all rights to property they were in possession of to the State, which is of little significant to him because possession of property by the state is actually “more secure.”[7]

Rousseau comes to the conclusion that it is nationhood, under the collective agreement that creates a republic, that defines a people; and all of the corresponding duties attendant to it are one’s highest political duties. In a footnote on page 171, Rousseau notes that although once a social contract has been agreed to, unanimity is no longer necessary to give force to the general will, it is necessary that everyone be able to vote on what actions the general will should take, because to do otherwise makes it an expression of a particular will rather than the true general will. Democracy, then, becomes an important aspect of the legitimacy of acts of the State in reflecting the general will of the people rather than the fancies of its leaders.

The significance of Rousseau’s Social Contract is that it gives parameters by which one can judge the legitimacy of governments in both their structure and substance. Governments must usually be democratic, because if they were not it means they are not attempting to ascertain the general will of the people. Similarly, leaders must act in accordance with the general will and those who contravene it are illegitimate; leaders who continue to act against popular sentiment have no right to rule under the social contract. Additionally, it seems to follow from Rousseau’s footnote on page 169 that government should redistribute wealth in order that they function efficiently, because too much inequality renders the social state only advantageous to the rich.[8] Furthermore, Rousseau’s ideas significantly impacted the French Revolutionaries of the late 18th century, whose motto was Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. These revolutionaries rejected the authority of the king since he was contravening the above-mentioned principles and subordinating the general will and common good to his own particular good. Equality and reciprocity, moving forward, become important foundations of Rousseau’s political philosophy and the modern nation-state. Rousseau’s ideas reflected and reinforced the movements in the late 18th century, such as in France, and those throughout the 19th century to create unitary states, in which the sovereign possessed full authority and plenary power, rather than enduring in the fragmented, decentralized situation many European nations like Germany had been in. This drive attempted to shed the arbitrary authorities of kings, princes, and other leaders by establishing anew a modern nation representative of the general will of the people rather than the special interest of the king.

[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses, ed. Susan Dunn (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2002), 155.

[2]Ibid., 156. In Rousseau’s words: “Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains….How has this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? I believe I can settle this question.”

[3] Ibid., 156-158. Likewise, Rousseau says, “If one is compelled to obey by force, there is no need to obey from duty’ and if one is no longer forced to obey, obligation is at an end.”

[4] Ibid., 159-161. The convention of taking slaves rather than killing enemy combatants presupposes a state of war and terminates at the establishment of peace, so this cannot justify an absolute authority of a ruler over his subjects either.

[5] Ibid., 162.

[6] Ibid., 163.

[7] Ibid., 167.

[8] Here, Rousseau says “Under bad governments, this equality is only apparent and illusory; it serves only to keep the poor in their misery and the rich in their usurpations. In fact, laws are always useful to those who possess and injurious to those that have nothing; whence it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only so far as they have something, and none of them has too much.”

Limited Liability and Libertarianism: A Thought Experiement

What follows will be a thought experiment on whether limited liability can be principally incorporated into libertarian theory or if it is antagonistic to the libertarian notions of restitution. I have read nothing regarding this matter—or at least nothing I can remember—and this is purely my own extrapolation from my understanding of libertarian theory and, therefore, may be rife with errors already addressed in libertarian literature regarding limited liability. Regardless, whether what follows is wrong, unoriginal, or unimportant, these are my own views ignorant of, and unreconciled with, contemporary libertarian theory regarding limited liability. I also have a limited understanding of the legal principles surrounding limited liability and corporations as it currently exists, but hopefully that shouldn’t hamper my foregoing analysis. Some of the terms in the post might be used inconsistently or incorrectly, but hopefully I have avoided most of these kinds of errors.

NOTE: Following the posting of this analysis, I plan to respond to my own analysis in an edit of this post after having read some conceptions of the compatibility of the limited liability principle (or any responses this post might garner). I think this is a useful exercise to test one’s freestanding knowledge of libertarian theory and the ability to extrapolate it to complex topics. If there are responses, some useful responses would be directing me to sources regarding the topic or commenting with your own freestanding thoughts of libertarian theory as applied to limited liability; I think it has the potential for a good discussion.

First, let’s begin with the basics. A group of individuals come together and agree to pool their assets together to create a corporate body, stipulating among themselves the assets they agreed to pool constitute the boundaries of their required obligation to the corporate body. Should one of the members of the body cause demonstrable harm through its business dealings to an outside individual, they further agree that this individual should not be liable for damages, resulting from lawsuit, greater than the share of assets they contributed to the corporate body. These owners may end up losing all the assets they contributed to the arrangement, but have agreed this is the extent of their liability. So far, so good; a voluntary arrangement has been formed among capable parties causing no physical invasions of another’s person or property.

But, how can this principle be applied to individuals outside of the arrangement? Indeed prima facie if someone outside this agreement is harmed by one of these individuals, the demands of restitution would suggest they are entitled to full restitution and are not bound by the limits imposed by the agreement that had formed the corporate body and established the limited liability regarding the stakeholders.

In practice, there are multiple ways in which a consumer coming into contact with the corporation might assume the obligation to honor the principle of limited liability should they ever be harmed by any of the parties to the corporate body. First, visiting a physical location owned by the corporate body might entail agreeing to be allowed to sue the corporation only to the extent of the pooled assets of the stakeholders as condition of admittance to the property. Thus, consumers would be bound to respect this agreement in any lawsuit they bring up against the corporate body given that they voluntarily assented to the limited liability. Similarly, customers of online establishments may be enticed to digitally sign an agreement stipulating limited liability of the corporate body should any of its products, the website, or its agents cause harm to the consumer in the course of its relations; access to the website would be limited to those who agree to this limited liability stipulation. Thirdly, if a corporate body delegates agents (employees) to carry out its functions—whether in a physical location owned by the corporation or owned by the consumer, i.e. traveling salesmen—it may require the signing of the arrangement detailing limited liability in order to continue doing business with its agents. Thus, the consumer dealing with agents of the corporate body would only be capable of suing for restitution to this limited extent, given the voluntary assent of the consumer to accept this principle in order to continue relations with the agent.

Now, what about cases in which no explicit or tacit agreement has been reached regarding limited liability? For the sake of example, we can use fracking to illustrate how it might work. Let’s say the agents of Frack Corp. engage in some fracking, causing the death of Farmer Joe’s cattle when they eat radioactive grass that had been contaminated by the runoff of the fracturing process. Farmer Joe has never visited the property of Frack Corp., never visited their website, and never done business with any of its agents; hence, he has never agreed to abide by the limited liability charter created by the stakeholders of Frack Corp. In this case, the requirements of restitution entail Farmer Joe can sue both the corporate body as well as the agents that engaged in the behavior causing harm to farmer Joe. Depending on the exact situation, the owners may be responsible for restitution from their own assets depending on their complicity in the harmful behavior. This would put agents in a precarious position if their employment duties could entail a significant risk of being subject to lawsuit for property violations. However, the agent could negotiate a contract with their employer requiring the owner to be responsible for restitution of the agent if they sued by a third party in the carrying out of the agent’s duties as prescribed by the corporate body—the principal. Regardless, in cases such as this, where a third party outside of the agreement is harmed by actions undertaken by the corporate body, liability greater than the value of the corporation’s assets could be spilled over to agents and or principals responsible for physical harms caused by their actions, just as in cases involving non-corporate actors who have not come to any kind of agreement.

In summary, it seems that the way corporations operate in a libertarian society would be fundamentally the same as they operate in the current system, save that corporations would likely be more explicit with consumers that doing business with them entails to agreeing to limited liability should they be harmed by the corporate body or its agents. Where it would deviate the most is that in harms caused to third parties not privy to any agreement with the corporate body regarding limited liability, corporations and the parties responsible for demonstrable harms, potentially including the owners, would be responsible for full restitution of the injured party, which would not be limited by the extent of the pooled assets of the stakeholders of the corporation.

The Bitcoin Revolution: The Digital Money Paradigm and the Financial Crisis

Below, I have attached a link to a PDF file of my paper entitled, “The Bitcoin Revolution: The Digital Money Paradigm and the Financial Crisis.” I would greatly appreciate any suggestions, edits, errors, comments, or omissions you may have noticed.

My paper looks at the history of cryptocurrency/cryptography, how this relates to Bitcoin, and how cryptoanarchist concerns regarding government interference with digital communications and digital money appear to have been fleshed out by the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

The Bitcoin Revolution

Enjoy

Walter Block on Slavery: Another View

Many moons ago now, Walter Block was summarily condemned by the president of the university he teaches for — Loyola University New Orleans, a Jesuit university — named Rev. Kevin Wm. Wildes. In his criticism of Dr. Block, he mentions Walter Block’s purported criticism of slavery as “not so bad— you pick cotton and sing songs,” which was quoted in a New York Times article about Rand Paul. He claims that this is tantamount to “hinting to endorse slavery enforced against someone’s free will,” which would then “contradict [Dr. Block’s] basic libertarian principles.”

Many libertarians rightly noted that this quote was taken out of context in the original NYT article, that likely Rev. Wildes never read the source of the quote himself to ascertain any context, and that the quote was not an endorsement of, nor did it “hint” at, endorsement of slavery. In the original piece, Dr. Block was writing in hyperbole in order to draw attention to what was wrong with slavery; namely, it was a forced association between individuals. In the original piece he talked about slavery noting various innocuous features of slavery, which include picking cotton, singing songs, and eating gruel. These are not why slavery is wrong. It is not wrong because of what minimal benefits slaves receive, i.e. food, shelter, or singing while they work; it is wrong because a slave does not get to choose his or her employer or the nature of his or her work. They are bought and sold without the consent of the individual slave. This is a fundamental denial of a slave’s freedom of association.

To put it another way, let’s assume a relationship in which a slave gets better working conditions. They have a beneficent master who is kind to his slaves, feeds the slaves the same food he eats, dresses the slaves in nice clothing, etc. Do we not still condemn this relationship just as much as the one where a slave is fed gruel, beaten, and barely dressed? Of course. In fact, the hypothetical I just presented is the same kind of argument some Southern slave-owners were making leading up to the Civil War; that most slaves were treated kindly and liked their masters. Yet, historians understand that regardless of the truth of this argument of “beneficence”, the institution of slavery is still inherently wrong.

And this brings me to the neglected point in the discussion. Dr. Block’s line of thinking, that most people can recognize slavery is wrong because of its denial of the principle of freedom of association, is not quite true, particularly of his detractors. What do I mean, exactly? Most of his criticizers tend to be of the liberal, socialist, communist, or other leftist ideologies. Hence, it is probably true for them that slaves being fed gruel or forced to live in poor housing is just as wrong as the forced nature of the slave relationship. These individuals are of the idea that every individual is entitled to a minimum wage, adequate housing, food, and so on. This is why things like sweat shops are looked at as inherently “evil”, exploitative, and are akin to slave labor. They subscribe to the idea that if an individual has no other options than to take a job in a sweat shop they are being exploited; whether they chose this or not is of little consequence to them.

In this light, it is easy to see how even if Dr. Block’s detractors understood his argument on slavery, they would likely still disagree with him.

Addressing Objections to Libertarianism

Spoken in class today by a leftist student of unknown ideology who probably loves Salon articles: “Some libertarians think individuals with vast economic power have the right to turn people into paupers.” They seem to misunderstand one of the most basic characteristics present in any human society.
No matter what the structure of society, there will always be some individuals who have more power than others. Further, in any society, there will always be some individuals who actively use their power to the detriment of others; this certainly is not limited to any particular ideology, class of individuals, or structure of society. To think otherwise is hopelessly naive and would deny the existence of sociopaths. If someone was actually concerned about instances of the misuse of power, they should take a look at government. Government has vastly greater power than any business or private individual could ever hope of having and the instances of abuse of this power are painfully obvious: 260 million individuals killed by governments in the 20th century and countless other abuses and violations of individual rights. Some people are so tunnel-visioned about the potential for power abuse in their pejorative hypothetical libertarian state they forget the catastrophic reality they are living in. And let’s be realistic here, unless they are supporters of some genre of anarchism, they ultimately accept the idea that the state may wield power and turn people into paupers through taxation. Awfully hypocritcal, wouldn’t you say?